Crudo, thought-provoking writer, Olivia Laing’s first novel was surprisingly only written in just seven weeks. An intelligent piece of fiction, yet also not without it’s fair share of political commentary, with the social context, it is a novel of change and fluidity. Bringing elements of post-punk icon Kathy Acker’s story (the protagonist is named Kathy Acker) to elements of herself, surviving the summer of 2017, Laing has cultivated a story that merges sheer indulgence with rise of a perilous political landscape and a president that could see them into nuclear war.
The context has been substantially grounded in this novel where we hear about Grenfell, Charlottesville and the migrant crisis, along with Trump’s rogue tweets, and yet the story revolves around Kathy Acker, who is trying to love, and live her life of jet-setting. As aforementioned she takes some of the truths about the musician and throws them together with herself, and Laing does this exceptionally, particularly if we consider the time scale in which she has done this. And yet, perhaps this urgency of writing adds to the pace and movement within the novel, as it’s definitely there, as we hear of her time in Italy, then yet back in New York, next in London.
The novel has no shortage of humour as we witness the way Kathy struggles with her commitment-phobia and how this impacts on her treatment of her husband, which has correlations to Laing’s real life, who married a man with around the same age difference as these two characters at a similar stage in her life. There is in fact much semi-biographical detail dotted throughout Crudo, but that certainly doesn’t take anything away from it’s style and acclaim. She reminds us of Woolf, and more recently has been compared to Maggie Nelson. Her work is tremendous, and you want to finish this as quick as you have begun, and perhaps this is due to the pacey tempo at which the events occur.
And as for character aside from the lifestyle I think there is much we can relate to, “the mistake she’d made as so often was to read the news immediately after waking … How could you be happy when you knew the tendencies humans had, their aptitude for cruelty.” Kathy is indulgent yes, but this is something that I think most of us can empathise with. And it’s a page-turner, personally I read in a couple of sittings, as it is one of those you struggle to put down. The prose, the writing, the context, the character, it all fuses to become a book that Laing should be proud of, and I urge you all to read.
Crudo is out now, published by Picador.